Menopausal Mood Swings And Not Turning Into “That” Couple

Elderly couple sitting on bench in front of a view of the water.

There are weeks when we reach for the bikini briefs from our underwear drawer each morning, and others when we choose the big girl panties. There are weeks when we stop at the second cookie, and others when we devour the packet.

Life can be like that; a rollercoaster of emotions and ups and downs, with no real warning of how the next day will turn out. We are led to believe that the downs are a necessary part of growth and make us stronger, and yet it can be hard sometimes to embrace life lessons when we find ourselves permanently in the dips.

Menopause may contribute to those dips. Hormonal changes within our bodies make us vulnerable; they exacerbate our mood swings, diminishing our confidence. Some days it can be hard enough to get out of bed, let alone think clearly enough to make life-changing decisions that affect our future. 

Menopausal mood swings make PMT look like a walk in the park and the worst part is that they don’t stop after five to seven days. We never know quite how we’re going to feel each morning, and those disconcerting changes to our mental make-up – such as increased forgetfulness – can force us to second-guess ourselves. This is a period of our lives when we are coping with the passing and care of elderly parents, children leaving, downsizing – perhaps a terrifying sea change to another area – and changes to our work patterns and stability, and it can be easy to feel insecure and unsupported.

The topic of retirement or semi-retirement, (and more poignantly, WHEN we will be able to retire), is a subject that dominates conversation among my female friends. Most of us, independent of how successful our careers have been up to this point in our lives, have been ready to reduce our hours or work for ourselves (in an ideal world) for some time now. Sadly, few of us have the financial means. A reality that increases the anxiety of some women to such a level that they can find themselves reliant on anti-depressants to cope – or in the hands of dubious personal trainers. This, at a time when they should be reaping the rewards of empty-nesting.

There is a growing sense of frustration and restlessness about still being on the hamster wheel as the tiredness of age seeps into our bones, tempers and tolerance to dickheads. We feel compromised about still having to work for other people – often with no acknowledgment of the good job we are doing and that permanent, underlying fear of the consequences of ageism in the workplace.

A different headspace comes with the territory of middle age where our focus changes to freedom. No longer dazzled by the riches promised by work, (because we have a newfound sense of what is important), the dangling carrot is now the greater freedom to do what we want with whatever time we have left. How many times do we hear the story of the couple that worked hard all their lives for their retirement, for one of them to fall sick at the start of it?

Don’t be that couple.

What Happened To The Fearlessness Of My Youth?

It is no secret that anxiety can be linked to menopause, and for some women, the condition can be so bad, it forces them to turn to anti-depressants to get through it.

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According to Medical News Today: ‘Hormone changes, life stresses, sleep problems, worries about body image, infertility, boring marriages and aging are all factors linked to menopause that can contribute to mood swings, stress, anxiety, irritability bordering on psychopathy and a decreased sense of any rationality well-being in women.’

There’s nothing worse than feeling anxious all the time, and if I could change one element of this period of my life, it would be the sense of irrational fear that has worked its way into my everyday consciousness.

I often wonder where the fearlessness I had as a child and young adulthood disappeared to in the ageing process. Anxiety diffuses my every thought to the point where I’ve even started to worry on behalf of others. I stop to watch the surfers at the beach and instead of envying them their majestic feat of travel through water, all I can think about are the waves strong enough to crush them, sharks, rips, Russian submarines, and ear infections.

Fortunately for them, their passion overrides their fear.

What happened to the kid that used to roll and bound down steep hills and steps, without worrying about falling over? When did I stop swinging across monkey bars, spinning the swing almost 360 degrees and climbing trees – okay, so I never actually climbed trees.

Did we do all that because our brains were underdeveloped, or has experience taught us to be more careful?

I often wonder what happened to the girl who lived and worked in a foreign country, drove across Europe by herself, hitchhiked and took her chances with Lotharios she’d never consider leaving her daughter with now.  What happened to that courageous young woman who reinvented herself so many times in the workplace that not even she recognised herself?

What happened to the fearlessness of my youth? When did fear start to impede my enjoyment of life?

Anyone else feel this way?

Anxiety, Stupidity, And Why The Next Time I Leave The House Will Be In A Casket

After what feels like an interminable period of drought, Sydney has been hampered by the kind of rains we usually only see on Christmas Day, at birthday parties or weddings over the past few days. Unlike my British alter-ego, I have come to enjoy the rain here – a few precious days when I can’t fry eggs on my cheeks and sleep peacefully at night. However, as in most over-populated cities of the world, rain and public transport become an interesting partnership.

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I thought I’d come to terms with the fact that it’s better that I don’t leave the house, so call it whimsy or plain stupidity, it was nevertheless an unusual decision to visit the city for an exhibition yesterday, on one of the aforementioned rainy days.

 

Okay – so it might have had something to do with work.

 

Fortunately, my confidence was buoyed by a brand new bus system, recently installed from Forgottensville to the Big Smoke. Thanks to another government incentive to blow our taxes on worthless pieces of shit ensure that us country folk get to work on time, we now have canary-yellow, double-decker buses (that scream “poor”) and drive at breakneck speed down our bus lanes – until, inevitably,  something gets in their way. So, in contrast to the old horse and cart days, the journey now takes around an hour and nine minutes, rather than the previous hour and ten.

 

I’m certain that when that government official in transport drew up the plan and came up with the innovative idea of limited stops, the fact that there is only one main arterial road into the city from our neck of the beach must have slipped his mind – although the USB points are a nice touch. And as I sat in bumper-to-bumper traffic, avoiding knee contact with the hot guy next to me, and waving along the selfish pricks in cars ahead of us in the bus lane, (unnecessarily polluting the atmosphere with their 4x4s), only a game of Watching Weird People On Buses kept me sane.

 

To cut a very long (and I fear, tedious) story short, no one informed me that the bells on these new-wave buses with limited stops, actually serve a purpose. I had made the foolish assumption that the bus would stop at each limited stop, and as we sailed past my stop, (and the agreed location for the pick up for the next stage of my mammoth trek), I might have panicked a little – a panic that I was conscious of not allowing my fellow passengers to witness. I mean, how could I publicly demonstrate the rarity with which I use this outdated and highly inefficient mode of transport? That would be owning up to my own private guilt for billowing gallons of the cheapest fuel into our atmosphere in my own 4×4; worse, it would highlight my stupidity.

 

For it has come to my attention, that since I turned fifty, I am indeed becoming more stupid, in rather pitiful, doolally, blonde, kind of way.

 

To make matters worse, in my rush to get off the bus first, I had scrambled out of my seat embarrassingly prematurely so as not to miss my stop, which meant that EVERYONE knew that I was stupid. And I couldn’t shout across the fifty or so miserable Monday morning faces in front of me to accuse the driver  – I say, young man, but I think you missed my stop – because bus drivers, like medical receptionists, are an inherently grumpy breed, borne of coping with fare dodgers, drunks, and hypochondriacs every day – although I hasten to add that I have never dodged a fare.

 

Dumped at the next stop in the rain with the self-acceptance that I am not safe to leave the house again – or indeed be left on my own at any time again – and with no clue where I was, I drowned my sorrow in a surprisingly tasty Maccas coffee. And as I sat there, berating myself for my limited understanding of both Google maps and Uber, (whilst privately congratulating myself that I have the apps on the home page (?) of my phone), I reached a life-changing decision. The next time I leave the house will be in a casket.

Change, Anxiety and Crazy AF Dreams

There are some exciting changes coming up in my life in the near future. Or at least I’m pretending to myself that they are wildly exciting even though inside my organs feel as though they’re dissolving in acid, something that happens each time I go through such changes and my anxiety goes into overdrive. The other byproduct of such an assault on all my senses is that I have crazy AF dreams about what can go wrong. halloween-997596_1920 (1)

 

These current changes involve my career, and if the dream I had last night is anything to go by, I’m not completely comfortable with them.

 

Last night’s dream involved my opening of a home and giftware shop (a long-term aspiration) where all the product is white. Logically, I named the shop ‘White’.

 

The best part of the dream was I can remember the tingle of anticipation I felt at the prospect of a whole shop full to the brim of calming neutrality because if I had the choice, absolutely everything in my house would be white…that is until the complication of real life intrudes such as children and dogs and men who can’t eat without getting food on the sofa. I’ve never quite understood how such schemes work outside of Home and Garden magazines unless you make a religious commitment to “Vanish”.

 

Evidently, there’s a little OCD thrown into my own particular brand of madness.

 

Anyway, as I was signing my first orders for ‘White’ branded tee-shirts and white fluffy cushions, I got a call from the police to say that I had to close the shop because its name was not politically correct and there had been complaints from the locals. They castigated me for overtly demonstrating my privilege in the neighborhood and as a result imposed sanctions on my potential customer base from buying from my dream store.

 

The dream was intense. Not as terrifying as those ones where you fall off cliffs or are being chased, but I remember one moment distinctly where I was looking at my beautiful new business cards, weeping onto their perfect white gloss card with its perfect black font and wondering if I could change the brand name to ‘Black and white’.

 

Unfortunately, there aren’t too many black schemes in beach-style, Hamptons homes.

 

Next was the stress of actually choosing the product. One of my intentions, when I chose my white theme, was to keep it simple, because something I have worked out with maturity is that simplicity is core to my mental stability, hence survival. The problem then was that I couldn’t decide whether I was allowed to veer off-piste and include all of those different shades of white that Dulux has invented – because then, I worried, my brand might not be authentic to its racist origins.

 

The final stress of this journey to the fulfillment of my dream career came about when I gave a customer’s child a white chocolate jelly bean at the front desk and they had an allergic reaction, entitling the mother to accuse me, very publicly, of being both a bad retailer and bad parent.

 

This is anxiety, folks. It’s how your stupid brain can turn even your dreams into nightmares.

I Blame Trump For My Anxiety

It’s not cold here in Sydney today, thankfully, because up until the last week or so it felt like it had been thirty-fucking seven degrees since 2016. But metaphorically it feels cold, that is since Trump entered the building, threw his toys out of the pram and began to shake up the foundations of diplomacy and world politics like a small earthquake. His presence in power has created a similar feeling to that frisson you get when something doesn’t feel quite right. blizzard-1245929_1920

 

I know his type, and I truly believe he thinks his policies are for the good of the people who voted for him. But he is a Narcissist whose self-importance has blinded him to all consequences of damaging or hurting his followers during his trophy hunt.

 

It’s hard not to feel anxious when our leading politicians – the people who make those big, crazy decisions about our survival and who have their sticky fingers so temptingly close to the buttons – can’t conceal even their own personal, little boy frustrations. We’re all hugging our babies closer – Gwyneth would approve.

 

The world media has gone into free fall since Trump was elected; jubilant initially at the gift of so much fodder, and now panic stricken that he might actually shut them down. I can’t decide whether they’re loving the shit storm they’ve created or if they’re secretly thinking that this could be their last work.

 

But for us pawns of the general public, it is an anxious time when we don’t know what to believe, or where to turn to. We don’t know who we are anymore. Are we racists? Should we be scared? Should we allow that Mosque to be built? What if we can’t get Baklava anymore? Some days it feels as though there’s no positive news at all and everywhere you look Trump’s name dominates the headlines. “Breaking news” these days is always about what’s going wrong in the world, and is usually linked to analysis of his latest verbal comeback on Twitter. The Oscars fuck-up made a welcome change, but when sacred shit like that hits the fan, it’s time to take a step back and reflect. Thankfully, Ryan Gosling’s sister’s breasts distracted the media for at least 48hours afterwards.

 

Our own Prime Minister, normally a reserved, quietly confident kind of man, has looked like he wants to throw the towel in and go walkabout with his ancestors for a while now, and equally, many want to throw the towel right back at him, hard, for not standing up to the bully in the playground.

 

So how are we, the minions of society – those who never usually step out of line, don’t squeak too much, pay our taxes dutifully, put our bins out on the right bin night, and adhere to most of its demands peacefully in return for safety and security – how are we meant to cope exactly with this impending doom?

 

This week they discovered a fossil on Mars that suggests that there is other life – FFS! – in preparation for which I increased the strength of my anti-depressants.

 

It feels cold outside.

 

Not as cold as it is for those at the real coalface of inequality, racism and persecution, of course. Not as freezing as it is for those in direct risk of losing their lives, families, livelihoods and self-respect, because someone with power, (who likes to wield it a lot), likes to also talk out of context and invoke fear.

 

No, this is a first world “cold” for most of us and needs some perspective.

 

Let’s get real here: for the majority of us, it is an unsettling breeze on a mild day where you wish you’d brought your jumper. We can still watch Netflix, we can drink wine, our families are tucked up nicely in bed at night.

 

For others, the real victims, a severe weather pattern is forming.

Learning How To Relax With Anxiety

We lead increasingly busy lives and I find it hard to relax even when I do have free time these days. Although I continually moan about having no time to relax, for some strange reason I feel more fulfilled when I’m busy, even though I know that it’s not a healthy way to live as I get older. car-888913_1280

 

I envy faiths such as Judaism and Christianity, which impose a day of rest. It’s the sort of discipline I need; an enforced break from the continuing bustle of trying to cram something into every minute of the day. I’ve tried relaxation methods such as meditation but always feel silly and I’m coming to realise that the calm provided by alcohol is not the ideal choice for my middle-aged body.

 

Living with an increasing anxiety problem aided by medication is like existing somewhere between a dulled life of “fuck it” calm, where nothing really matters, and a state of frenzied agitation. I rarely experience a happy medium in terms of balance.

 

On good days, my medication gives me a false sense of security of the world, where everything is just fine.

 

Until it’s not.

 

I’ll give you an example. A few weeks ago I drove my car around town in the rain and noticed that my tyres weren’t gripping the road as well as they should, which is when I remembered that the mechanic at my last service – over a year ago – had recommended that I would need to change them soon.

 

Unfortunately, “car stuff” falls into the “onerous task box” in my brain which is why I’d procrastinated about the tyre issue. I’m very negligent when it comes to the wellbeing of my car because I don’t understand them, and albeit a feminist, there is a devious part of my brain that puts them in the ‘man job’ department, even though I have a man who is not interested in cars either and has a similarly lacklustre opinion of them. My meds had helped me merrily ignore a potential safety issue for over a year, yet within minutes of my brain acknowledging that “Houston, we have a problem”, my anxiety had turned the problem into a catastrophe.

 

I needed new tyres. NOW!

 

Anxiety meds are fantastic in terms of dimming danger signals to help you cope with day- to-day challenges, by promoting an “it’ll be fine” attitude in the wake of any potential crisis or indeed anything that is under-stimulating, and going to get my tyres checked is certainly not high on the list of things I want to do on the weekend. But my brain began to ruminate subconsciously over the problem that night and after an associated nightmare about someone checking the baldness of my tyres and looking at me in that disappointed way that only your parents do, my anxiety was triggered. When I woke up the following morning I had one mission.

 

If anyone is considering a new business venture, the sale and fitting of wheels and tyres look like a good option to me, especially if you like working Sundays because so few retailers are open. I can’t believe that everyone else in front of me in the queue that day had experienced a similar night panic about the grip on their tyres – some of them were probably just normal petrol-heads salivating over new rims – but the whiff of testosterone nearly knocked me out as I walked into the one showroom that was open in Sydney.

 

To increase my anxiety and the mind-numbing tedium of an almost three hour wait, in my panic to leave the house quickly in the face of certain death on the road due to my shortsightedness, I forgot to take my phone with me. (This happens with increasing regularity at the moment and if you’ve ever done it you’ll know that it gives you the vulnerability of what I imagine it’s like to turn suddenly blind). Generally, it’s obviously a bit of a first world issue, but I had arranged to meet a friend long before the tyre man would finish and that worry induced a mild state of panic as I waited and fretted with not even social media to distract me.

 

It also served to prove once again how absolutely brain dead you become in middle age when you can’t remember the telephone number of one person in your life.

 

But trying to retrieve a number out of my cluster of dying brain cells did help to pass the time as I sat in that showroom, trying to ignore the torturing sound of drilling that pierced its way into my skull each time I thought I’d remembered any number sequence that might help me contact my friend who was waiting for me at the beach on the other side of the city.

 

Which is where I should have been on a Sunday. Relaxing.

 

By the time I was back on the road, as hyper as if I’d drunk six black coffees, it was inevitable that my patience would be thin, proven by the voice inside of my head that curses each changing light with, ‘Go on, change you fuckers,’ on what should have been my day of rest.

 

And I tried to remember to breathe.

‘Pretend You’re Good At It’

I’m reading “Furiously Happy” by Jenny Lawson, (aka The Bloggess) at the moment, upon the recommendation of Lana Hirshowitz, and although I initially struggled to decipher the twisting maze of her brain patterns, I’ve since tapped in and have found myself identify with the author’s self-professed craziness and daily struggles with anxiety. joy-233380_1280

The book is laugh-out-loud funny but one snippet I want to share with you is the day Jenny goes to a studio to record the audio for her latest book, when fear renders her voice a croak and she can’t get through it, so she calls her friend Neil Gaiman for help. As you do.

 

His advice to her is to ‘pretend you’re good at it.’ And on this occasion it works.

 

If only it were really that simple.

 

The old man and I had our usual ‘how we can change the world’ chat, or more poignantly, ‘how we can change our world and find fulfilment’ talk over a curry last night. I don’t know why, but both of us struggle to identify true contentment in our lives even when it smacks us squarely in the face. The most likely reason is that we’re both anxious people as well as privileged (see previous post), or perhaps it’s because we over-analyse everything, hence find it difficult to be happy with what we have, but it’s a trait I despise in myself, yet can’t seem to change.

 

As you know, I’ve erred close to the dark side over the past month or so and the old man has been victim to the brunt of my symptoms and last night his patience went out the window and he did his best impression of the asshole who refuses to accept that mental illness is little more than a state of mind and suggested that I suck it up and put on my happy face.

 

To pretend.

 

I don’t know how many times I’ve reacted to that sort of comment during these periods, that if he can indeed see inside my brain and really does know exactly what I’m thinking, perhaps he could fix it while he’s there. But having suffered at the hands of depression within his own family, I know that the ramifications of it scare the shit out of him and his enforced bravado is rooted in fear.

 

This morning I lay in bed and listened to him potter about the house, whistling and interrupting my lay-in occasionally with inane questions such as ‘where do you buy pegs?’ or ‘when are you going to get up?’

 

‘Why do I need to get up?’ I replied, rolling over lethargically, ‘it’s Sunday’. I had settled in between the covers with The Princess for the day, because I’m becoming increasingly aware that to prevent myself snapping at him all the time (his accusation last night), I need to enforce my own space. He, on the other hand, has changed into some sort of battery-operated toy that continually marches around the new house looking for things to fix and recently signed up as a lifetime member of the local hardware store.

 

I wish he could fix me.

 

I’m tired of pretending. I’ve spoken before about how I believe that we all ‘fake it’ to some degree at different junctures of our lives, but it’s different this time. In the past I faked being good at things for the purposes of my ambition, such as career progression, or in relationships – for example, the old man never realised how much I hated golf until after our honeymoon – whereas at the moment, I have to fake being happy, I have to pretend I’m interested in life, when a lot of the time it feels meh. For my marriage to survive. And so I don’t frighten my kids.

 

Fortunately, when I work, the distraction of meeting new people seems to dilute the doubts and they wait outside the door. Being busy prevents my tendency to over-think, the very behaviour that drowns out my responsibilities when I’m at home. Perhaps, in fact, this whole period is symptomatic of something greater, of this era of (near) empty-nesting, and I’m simply adjusting to having more time on my hands and finding some new purpose in my life.

 

Writing distracts me too. I’m sitting on the deck right now and the sun is streaming through the trees and the breeze is gently fanning my face and I know I have no right not to feel happy, which is why I’m going to try Neil and the old man’s advice and pretend I’m really good at being happy.

I Should Have Packed The Wine

‘You’re the one that I want…’ the old man sang to me when I got up this morning. A sincere effort, I believe, to calm the storms that have inevitably begun to build up as we get ready to move. He’s been in a suspiciously good mood all week which he has tried to disguise as excitement even though we all know that its root lies in the anticipation of hiding away in his new study for the next few years. 

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Ending years of deprivation for The Princess

 

Moving house is one of the three most stressful things in life, apparently. It’s up there with divorce and death… and dieting, I imagine. And even though we’re old hands at this lark – some might say ‘professionals – it’s never easy with ‘a man who can’t’ when it comes to DIY, (who thinks he can), a procrastinator of a young adult who believes she can pack her entire room including fantasy library, rock collection and seventy-five nail varnishes in minutes and a son with anxiety who packed the minute we signed the lease, meaning he has had nothing to do but worry and irritate the fuck out of me for the past four days.

 

It’s The Princess I worry about. Anyone who owns a dog knows how they react when you bring the suitcases out to go on holiday, but boxes are a whole different sphere of worry and she keeps throwing me those looks out of the corners of her eyes that beg two questions ‘am I coming with you?’ and ‘how can you do this to me again?’ Obviously she doesn’t realize that ‘grass’ comes with this new home and she won’t have to embarrass us any more at the local parks by behaving like some loony dog, who’s been deprived of grass and sunlight for years.

 

In spite of so much ‘packing’ experience behind me, I’ve made some rookie errors this week by being over-zealous and prematurely boxing stuff the kids apparently need to survive. I’m not talking about the First Aid kit or anything like that but I did pack the maple syrup – shame on me – and I must have packed the cheese grater which I really needed for dinner last night. I improvised with nail scissors – something Generation Y seems incapable of doing.

 

As Kurt mentioned somewhat sarcastically last night, yes it is quite interesting that I haven’t packed the wine or wine glasses yet as I project manage this move and try to keep frayed tempers at bay, diffuse anxiety about spiders and WIFI in the new place and create new rules about noise. Sometime last night I might have agreed to Kurt having a gathering in his new, semi-contained space in an effort to show that the move will be beneficial to everyone in the family and give us all a bit more space and separation.

 

Perhaps I should have packed the wine.

Those ‘What’s It All About?’ Moments

mandrill-1194343_1280I’ve been having a lot of those ‘what’s it all about?’ moments recently.

 

I changed my medication recently so it could be that, or simply a residual post-sickness tiredness that has sapped me of the energy to exercise, socialise and get out of my yoga pants.

 

Then again it’s probably the hormones, the tail end of winter, the move or a million other fucking things that I can’t put my finger on, but that make me feel as anxious as fuck.

 

 

I’m okay, but I’m kind of not. An unsettled feeling.

 

One of my good friends thinks it’s our age, that we all feel a bit out of kilter at this stage of our lives, when we’re beyond the disappointment and acceptance of ‘this is it’ that we went through in our forties, but ahead of the ‘fuck it’ financial gloriousness of retirement and our twilight years.

 

I just feel overwhelmingly tired most of the time, which might be because the old man keeps waking me up rudely in the middle of the night because I’ve begun to snore and then I can’t go back to sleep, but not even wine and Netflix can seem to restore my Tigger bounce.

 

A woman, probably in her sixties, walked in front of my car on the pedestrian crossing today with a huge grin plastered on her face and I said to the old man ‘that’s how I want to look all the time.’

 

‘Probably not going to happen with me,’ he replied dolefully, because even though I feel that we’re on a rare plane of closeness at the moment, we exacerbate each other’s anxiety and the impending move has begun to play on our minds.

 

I feel a sense of sadness deep down in my marrow that I can’t explain. Even Bridget Jones barely raised a smile.

 

Thank God for friends.

 

I know I have no right to be sad when there are refugees fighting for their lives and acceptance and inspiring stories such as the one I read this week about the two kids with Cystic Fibrosis who married each other even though they knew that to be together would ultimately kill them. I never realized before that people with the condition can’t mix with each other because of the low immune system caused by CF, and the ability for bacteria to grow easily on their lungs. But it doesn’t work like that.

 

How lonely AF must it be if you can’t even moan to your closest friends about how much life fucking sucks sometimes?

Anxiety, Hope and Earning The Olympic Gold For Worrying

If they handed out an Olympic Gold for worrying, I’d get it.

 

I’ve skirted around the void of depression many times, when my anxiety has gnawed away at me like some flesh-eating bacteria, so close to the bone that I’ve felt like it was all too much. directory-466935_1280 

 

Unlike many people out there who wax lyrical about alternative methods to “cure” depression, medication has been my saviour, the only treatment that has worked consistently for me and allowed me to function relatively normally. Exercise helps, but it wouldn’t be enough on its own.

 

But even medication isn’t an antidote, and so sometimes I get caught out when the black dog begins to circle.

 

In the first weeks after we moved to the suburb we live in now, which is close to the Harbour Bridge, a young man took his life by jumping off it. It was an event that affected me viscerally at the time because we were fighting to stay alive in a zone of wall to wall fear for our son Kurt. That poor boy’s death became personal to me. I was angry with him, visualised myself shaking him and promising him that with time he would feel better, I cried for him and couldn’t get him out of my head or imagine that level of despair. I catastrophized his death and convinced myself that it was a sign.

 

Suicide is becoming more and more common, not just in middle-aged men where it has always been prevalent, but in our young, who on the surface should have everything to live for.

 

When you’ve found yourself close to the level of negativity where you give up hope and question your reason for being, no amount of ‘but look at what you’ve got to live for’ talk can help. Whenever I move into a bad period of anxiety like I did recently, I always end up sitting with the doctor, tears of shame streaming down my cheeks at being so miserable when my life is near perfect.

 

But there are a multitude of triggers of depression and anxiety, many of which the experts have yet to understand.

 

I read many articles about suicide, not because I’m some weirdo but because it’s one of the main themes of the book I’m writing. What has stuck with me are the number of articles from survivors and how, so often, their attempt has been enough to change their outlook. It’s only afterwards that they can see through the clouds of despair, acknowledge that there is some hope, that they are loved, and that some simple changes and support in their life could provide a very different outlook.

 

When you are immersed in that thick, obscure soup, you think that nothing will ever change and it is the overwhelming fear of failure and letting people down that prevents you from embracing what life has to offer.

 

But the patterns of our lives twist and undulate constantly – something you realise with middle age but the young person with depression will find hard to see. For example, twelve years ago, I would never have believed that I would be living in Australia now, doing a job I enjoy, and that the kids would have survived my unique brand of parenting. The bi-product of a divorce, I might also be quite surprised to see that my marriage has endured all the dramas I’ve thrown at it, and I would never have believed that parenting could hold so many challenges or shape me so indelibly.

 

Three years ago, if someone had told me that things with Kurt would eventually get easier, I wouldn’t have believed them. Back then I saddled myself with blame for his behaviour, held myself personally accountable that my little boy wasn’t happy in his own skin. I now see that he has to take some responsibility too.

 

And here we are, making baby steps towards some light.

 

One of the best bits about life is its unpredictability; that nothing has to stay the same. Each day we grow, develop and begin to understand more and more deeply why we were put here. This short period on earth can be a difficult tenancy but we are the landlords of our destiny and if things don’t go to plan, it’s reassuring to know that we can move on. If only everyone was given a second opportunity to realise that.

When Your Child Has Mental Health Issues and You Want To Use The Get Out Of Jail Card

I’m tired of this particular journey.

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Self-absorbed I know, but there I said it. No “parent of the year” award for me; I’m the parent who loves her child but is tired of this arduous journey at his side.

 

I’m tired of not sleeping, the stomach pains, the disagreements about the best way to raise him, giving everything I have to someone who doesn’t want to receive it. I’m tired of trying to work and remain professional when on the inside I’m hurting. If I was married to my son I could leave him if I felt this way, but parenting is unconditional.

 

And it must be, because I still love him.

 

Or is it? Should we really be expected to put our children before everything? Before our partner, before the needs of our other children and before our dreams, when they refuse to play the family game?

 

Everyone has their problems and he’s had a rougher ride than some, nevertheless he is luckier than many. Just as are we.

 

He has a family who loves him.

 

Unless you’ve been there, you have no idea how destructive a child with mental health issues who has no realistic grasp of responsibility, dependency issues and a trajectory hell-bent on self-destruction can be.

 

If only it was as simple as helping them. It would be easy if they were receptive to help, like the crazy kids depicted in films; if they accepted your support with a few tears of remorse and a big feel-good hug. But kids like this don’t behave like that in the real world. Trauma changes people. They kick out at support and pity. They know best. They live for the moment and have no fear of consequences until they happen.

 

Then, out of nowhere they let you walk forward a few steps for a few precious days and you breathe more freely again. You dare to believe. They allow you to think for that short gift of time that you’ve made it, walked out of the woods; that they’ve grown up, moved beyond that phase, matured.

 

And suddenly you see a normal future together, like the families on Facebook and in the movies – one big, happy Walton family. You can’t stop yourself picturing Mediterranean-style family lunches in the sun, laughter and hugs and brightly-coloured lanterns and for that short moment of denial, you forget about how often they’ve refused to commit to the last few rules of respect that you’ve asked of them, time and time again, and deserve.

 

They can’t. Not even for you, even though they insist that they love you. And in your heart, you know that they do.

 

Then, like in a board game, you throw the wrong number again, pick up the wrong card and are forced back several spaces or sent straight to jail.

The Curse Of Anxiety, Dogs and Teenage Commitment

The dog has decided to upstage the rest of the family in the anxiety stakes. I am reliably informed that part of her condition can be blamed on her Poodle heritage, in which separation anxiety is a common issue, but the other part is either a question of osmosis ie. living with us, or a result of the shocking level of pampering she receives. We’ve created a pathetic city dog, vulnerable and basically unable to exist on her own. 

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The Curse of Anxiety, Dogs and Teenage Commitment

 

As a psychotic nail-biting worrier myself, I would never trivialise anxiety, but it comes to something when you can’t leave the two kilometre safety zone around your apartment to take your dog for what is meant to be a treat to Centennial Park. The wailing that ensued in the car was tantamount to a two year old tantrumming about screen time on her parent’s iPad and at several points during the fifteen minute journey, the old man and I questioned our choice to have another one.

 

Part of the problem is that The Princess doesn’t visualise herself as a dog and so she was appalled to find that our walk coincided with the weekly social gathering of our Eastern Suburbs canine cousins – posh neighbours – one of whom was unfortunate enough to be named Boris and who had so much unspent energy and tenacity he took a liking to her at the dog park. Our refusal to carry her to protect her virtue was rewarded by an hour-long sulk.

 

Kurt experienced a similar bout of anxiety when he had his birthday ‘gathering’ last weekend. We’ve all suffered that horrible predicament, or party remorse, before our guests arrive when we wish we’d never organised the event in the first place, rather than expose ourselves to the horror associated with public rejection. Unfortunately, it’s only once you open the cage door do you understand what a prison fear can be.

 

At one point he admitted that he would prefer to phone up all fifteen of his friends and cancel. I understand that feeling only too well, although it is something that gets easier with age, mainly because you’ve ticked off that part of growing up where you learn to respect other people and finally have a secure enough band of friends to rely on, who understand the value of loyalty. Most importantly, they understand how miserable it feels to be let down at the last minute. 

 

It’s something Generation Y could learn a thing or two about.

 

As a loyal Leo, (and much to the old man’s chagrin), once I commit to something I always turn up. We always turn up. I don’t know who was more relieved by the ring on the doorbell that evening when it finally came, myself or Kurt; needless to say it caused the Princess to rock noisily in the corner only to be enticed out of her cell by the promise of pizza.

The 5 Golden Rules Of Hosting A Teenage Party

We are those foolish parents who agreed to host a ‘gathering’ last weekend, for Kurt’s nineteenth birthday. He requested a party, but I naively thought that if I defined it as a ‘gathering’, his guests would not interpret the event as the opportunity to get shit-faced at someone else’s expense, throw food and chuck up in someone else’s clean bathroom – that they would play Battleships, knit and face paint together. girl-438133_1280

 

Tensions were further increased because NC had to study for an exam the next day and so needed her sleep. Anyone who reads this blog and knows anything about our daughter, knows that you don’t mess with NC’s sleep even six months before an exam.

 

Kurt learned this again on Saturday.

 

There are basic rules about older teenagers, that I imagine will never change over the course of history, the main ones being that in the presence of their peers they become more selfish, territorial, much louder than they think they are and when alcohol hits their system they fit into four categories of party animal – the ‘all-nighter’, the ‘sleeper’, the ‘aggressor’ and the ‘puker’.

 

Which is why the best piece of advice I can give you about parties for 18-21 year-olds at home, is don’t be a fucking moron.

 

But, if like me, after each annual ‘why did I agree to it’ party disappointment, your child zaps you with some taser that erases all long-term memory, (rather like midwives do), and you forget about the police, the carpet stains and that couple you found shagging in your bedroom …, or you assume stupidly that every extra year is an added year of maturity, remember the 5 golden rules every parent needs to adhere to, so that there are no casualties – and by that I obviously mean ‘parent’ casualties.

 

The guest list – Agree on the numbers and stick to them even when your teenager continues to barter over them in the hours leading up to the party, then make sure you check those numbers in and out.

 

Timing – It doesn’t matter what time the invite says the ‘gathering’ will start, those selfish motherfuckers will turn up at least two hours later, so bear this in mind for your timings. Kurt’s event was supposed to be ‘pres’ – turns out they all went out for pres before his ‘pres’, leaving me with Mr Anxious who was convinced no-one would come, and cold food. Kick them out at the agreed party’s over time, whatever time they choose to arrive.

 

(Forget all your best mummy intentions about supplying food so they don’t drink on an empty stomach. Stop kidding yourself – the sole intention of their evening is to get shit-faced, so they’ll either not eat it, use it as weaponry or discover the hilarity in feeding the dog until she pukes).

 

Be The Boss. Don’t Be Their Friend – Like dogs, teenagers sense weakness. They are also fundamentally ‘stupid’ creatures, especially under the influence of …anything. I try not to believe they are inherently malicious or set out with the intention of disappointing, but under the influence of alcohol and the pressure of peers, the synapses in their developing brains break down completely and any respect or intention to impress their mates parents goes straight out of the window. Do not give off a ‘whiff’ of friendship towards your guests. They need to know where they stand during this minor skirmish, and it’s not on your side. This is your house and you are to be respected.

 

This advice will come in particularly handy when you barge into your child’s room at 3.30am, with the level of authority anyone in a stained towelling dressing gown and no make-up can muster, to find at least ten illegal teenagers have been secreted in there and you have to kick them out.

 

Enforce boundaries, such as no smoking in the house, you clear up your own puke etc, but avoid ‘rules’ with serious consequences – enforcing them on a hungover birthday boy means you’ll only end up disappointed and feeling mean.

 

Invest in carpet cleaner, plastic glasses, Valium, extra rugs and remember to hide the dog. Make sure that the First Aid kit has something in it.

 

 

 

Parenting Smugness, Social Media and Learning To Let Go Of Toxicity

One of the greatest things I’ve taken away from middle-age so far is the necessity to eliminate toxicity from my life.boy-58985_1280

 

The toxicity that culminates out of everyone’s idea of how best to parent is one of the most offensive.

 

Because I read many blogs, a lot of articles about raising and parenting young children pop into my Facebook newsfeed on a weekly basis, and even though I’ve reached a very different stage of the parenting game to new mums, occasionally I find myself reading about their plights and sighing with relief that I’m no longer stuck on that particular treadmill.

 

Because if parenting isn’t already fucking challenging enough, there’s a tribe of holier-than-thou people out there judging the rest of us on how we parent. If you need any proof, think back to the gorilla scenario of only a few weeks ago.

 

On the surface, it makes sense to assume that young mums have it better than the new mothers of my generation. For starters, I find it impossible to recognise the wealth of gear you can buy in baby stores these days – designed to make the daily lives of modern mums more convenient and efficient. Kids eat on-the-go sachets of ready-prepared organic meals for dinner, and there is a whole range of distracting contraptions to dump them into for the purposes of distraction, while mums nip off to the loo or prepare food. And although there’s still a way to go, childcare facilities and options for working mums are on the whole improving, which means that young mums have more choices.

 

Yet some aspects of parenting young children remain reassuringly unchanged (cackles smugly). Getting your bundle of love off to sleep is still a chore akin to root canal surgery – although the invention of sleep clinics offer a new line of support, something my generation of mums who sat in the hall all night, boobs lactating and weeping uncontrollably as they tried to control their baby’s screams, might have benefitted from.

 

Getting your child to eat solid food was another of those massively competitive parenting milestones, and always the topic du jour at any mother’s group. Some kids refuse to eat no matter what you throw at them, like NC – FACT – and I did end up throwing food at her, many times. She was one of those babies who zipped her mouth firmly shut the minute a spoon containing solid form got close to it, even though I’d have fed her chocolate cake doused in Oreos if she’d have taken it.

 

Things got so bad, I convinced myself that I would be processing her meals through high school. I should mention that her favourite food is now Thai.

 

It was the wisdom of a friend that turned that particular world of parenting pain around for me, when she reminded me that ‘babies won’t starve themselves’. That kind soul saved me from the terrifying belief that my child would be the first child in our middle-class suburb to die of malnutrition, and her words of assurance came exactly when I needed to hear them, at my hair-pulling breaking point, when I’d begun picking at scabs irrationally, banging my head against the wall and the old man was terrified to come home.

 

Perhaps if we’d had social media back then and I’d read a post from another mum with a similar predicament to mine, that might have equally provided me with the comfort I craved – to know that I wasn’t alone in this hellhole called parenting that everyone had tricked me into, and lied about being fulfilling.

 

However, social media can be a double-edged sword and some of the ridiculous expectations that are rammed down parents throats in the guise of advice nowadays can also be responsible for increasing anxiety in many new mums, particularly those who live far away from their parents, hence experience the isolation of what they see as personal failure that much more intensely.

 

New mums are exposed to so much information out there that they must second-guess their decisions all the time, whereas in our day, the only real expectation forced upon us was to get on with things without complaining too much. There was much less pressure in terms of judgment from our peers. It was rather like when we were little and went crying to our mums if we hurt ourselves, only to be told to cut it out or she’d give us something to really cry about.

 

Sure, we had family who interfered – the mother-in-law who always got the kids to sleep or delighted in reminding us about how they did things in her day. But we didn’t have Mrs Psycho Smug on Facebook, thankfully, whose child is vegan, walked out of the womb and commences her advanced pure maths degree by the age of ten.

 

In this age where mental health issues are becoming more prevalent, women and men need to support each other more openly. When we find ourselves in a difficult place, or simply aren’t coping with the shite that can smear our lives at different junctures, we don’t need judgment, we need someone to listen to us, to be held and supported in whatever way possible.

 

Likewise, when our self-worth is on the floor and the inflated, glamorised success stories of others begin to make us question our value, we need to discipline ourselves to move away from that toxicity and learn to celebrate our difference and individuality instead.

 

Our ability to raise a child that skips merrily through each milestone without tripping over once is one minuscule aspect of what we have to offer.

 

One of my favourite quotes that I often cite in relation to ADHD is this:

 

Everybody is a Genius. But If You Judge a Fish by Its Ability to Climb a Tree, It Will Live Its Whole Life Believing that It is Stupid. (Albert Einstein)

 

Says it all, really.